I have just arrived home from several weeks on the road; speaking on plants, of plants, with keen gardeners from across North America. Many might find the process of travel unadulterated drudgery and there are times, I admit, that actually getting to anywhere, anymore, seems like an ample slice of hell. Security now requires a virtual strip down and body search, something I might have truly enjoyed twenty years ago (well, ok, I still find the entire airport population in underwear a bit titillating).
Today, flying back from San Franscisco, I sat next to a big person who was consuming, in a rather fascinating syncopated tempo, a bag of flavored corn chips nearly the size of the Goodyear Blimp. It was not one of those dainty ten chip ordeals. This was a bag that would have served an entire family reunion, or perhaps an ancient religious ceremony attended by thousands near a river, as an accoutrement to miraculous baskets of fish and barrels of a good quality vintage fermented from water.
Just an aside, and not meaning in any way to be contrary or disrespectful, did the baskets of fish come fully prepared? Deep fried on sticks like on the beach at Puerto Vallarta On Alder planks? Did they provide small cups of tartar and coleslaw and a slice of lemon? Or did everyone just grab a big flounder and dig in? These are the questions I asked myself today as Jabba, who I ultimately came to refer to my seat mate, continually rubbed his fingers together after each chip, sending a Chernobyl-like dusting of dextrose, chili powder and a full spectrum of food colorings across our adpressed body parts. It was almost like we were seated happily together, Buddha-like, in one of those snow globes, but with more color and flavor drifting down upon us.
I have in the past ten days spoken to keen gardeners and enthusiasts and one-time-Heronswood devotees in Phildelphia, Virginia Beach, Victoria, B.C., San Franscisco and Boise, Idaho. I loved every encounter; experiencing at once the inherent geographical and climactic beauty of these areas and the gutsy and passionate devotion to the individual garden at each site, all while setting stories straight about plants and their origins and introductions, about ethics and honesty in the nursery industry and most importantly about good plants that are truly responsible choices for their climates rather than the often short sited money grab unfortunately seen as of late in some- certainly not all- mail order entities.
Dishonesty, mindless hubris and lack of passion or competence in (some) mail-order businesses aside, what really gets under my skin? Paying for access to the internet while on the road in overpriced hotels. Friends and compatriots, previous and current competitors, I believe it is time for a revolt. There exists a direct and illogical proportional relationship to what one spends on a nights lodging in this country and what one must pay for internet services.
I can spend a night, which I often do, at a 69 dollar- plastic cups in the bathroom- soap bars the size of sugarcubes- Travelodge, along an interstate in Texas and, as a part of the package, including a breakfast with apples picked fresh from the trees of my home state sometime within the past decade, is access to free, highspeed and wireless internet.
In a very nice Courtyard Marriot on the beach in Virginia I was given freshly baked cookies upon check-in ( ok, so I am doing Atkins so I refused with great aplomb though I later returned and bought and consumed an entire pint of Hagen-Daas Butter Pecan ) and assurances that I could plug my computer in and be online without a hint of effort on my part, and for free. It was a promise that was kept without a hitch. It was not an inexpensive room. I had two flat screened televisions and a private masseur on duty 24 hours a day. I lie about the later perk though would appreciate this service in the future.
At a recent stay at the very so-so ‘The Grove’ in Boise, for a room rate that I would never feel comfortable in paying on my own dime, I was forced to purchase an off-site service for internet access. If things go badly, as they did, the front desk gives you a 1-800 and says, in the same voice as on the television monitor when you turn on one of four televisions in your room ‘And we hope you enjoy Your stay with US’. At least The Grove provided a breakfast. But I spent 10 bucks a day to communicate by email, from a system that this hotel not only already HAD in place, but MUST have in place in order to survive, added on to a room rate that in itself, would provide home internet access for the remainder of my life.
And then, at the end of this trip, the icing; the Westin on Market and 3rd in San Franscisco. All smart people stay there. Three piece suited men and pants-suited women who speak tersely on their phones on the elevators telling business associates they are very disappointed in their recent performances, or their children have just won a gold in a recent tennis championship or they had finally, after days of agony and exhaustion, decided on the Vera Wang. There are nice sheets here and more pillows on my bed than in all of Afghanistan. And I must spend here per night what an Afghani spends in an entire year on staples for an extended family of 35, and then on top of that, an additional charge of 15 bucks for 24 hours of internet access. Again, a surcharge for a system that this hotel must have in place in order to survive. The two bottles of water on the bedstand have price tags of $5.00 each. Why not charge per minute for the television or better yet per flush for the toilet?
I have been, I still am, a businessman. I know hidden costs and the need for the bottom line and it is never as easy as it might seem to the casual visitor. But too I know abuse and a money grab as well as I know a good plant and when and where it was collected and where credit should be given and how it should be properly described. And there is no difference, in my mind, from unethical nurseries of any size and the unethical hijacking of those who have become dependent on a mode of communication that is essential in making our country work. If it can work any longer amongst such contemptuous greed might be the better question. The best answer, as inconvenient as it may be to us who will be mostly affected, is to Just say a Nancy No and let those that grab come back to beg for our business.
Footnote; Ending on a Rave
While in San Francisco, after completing my first talk at the Flower and Garden Show, I quite ignorantly waited curbside outside the Cow Palace for a passing cab. After a lengthy period, I decided I should call. You probably know the drill. “Hello Operator. Could you please connect with a cab service. No, I do not know its name. No, I do not know where I am, I only know where I am going. Yes, I am an existentialist.” In my daze and loss of confidence, a couple approached me and asked if I was having difficulty. They had been to my presentation. His name was Jorge and I am sorry I do not remember his wife’s name. Although they were driving home, towards the south, they drove me north–thirty minutes– to my hotel. We chatted and laughed the entire way. I cannot even begin to tell them, had I the chance, how much they restored my faith in the innate kindness of human beings. I will repay this in kind when the opportunity presents itself. Thank you.